A room-filling crowd was recruited to the July 16 Tinicum Township public board of supervisors meeting to support a proposal to pave scenic Sheephole Road.
While the paving proposal was addressed, as a means for improving emergency access, the subject was expanded to include a report from their new state representative on her efforts to reopen the crossing at Headquarters Road. PennDOT’s closing of that bridge in 2011 has been widely regarded as reducing emergency access, and increasing travel inconvenience.
PennDOT has been locked in a stalemate with opponents of its new two-lane bridge proposal, who advocate instead for a restoration of the one-lane, historic structure that still spans Tinicum Creek. New state Rep. Wendy Ullman addressed the meeting regarding her efforts on restoring the crossing, and separately in support of upgrading the environmental status of the Lower Tohickon Creek, which the state Department of Environmental Protection has proposed for a downgrade.
Ullman said she had begun working on the bridge “through lots of contacts” since last February, shortly after taking office. She said she was using a combination of “creative and traditional approaches” toward finding a “hybrid compromise.”
Ullman said her contacts so far, in addition to township officials, have included state transportation secretary Leslie Richards; Gov. Tom Wolf, through his deputy secretary of legal affairs and other aides, who have assured her that “he knows about it”; and Maya Van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. The latter has brought a lawsuit in federal court against PennDOT, alleging it did not perform due diligence on different options for restoring the crossing.
Ullman added she was hoping to have some kind of alternative solutions available by October, when the lawsuit might be at a point where the parties could take advantage of such alternatives to end the stalemate. After moderating an extensive question-and-answer with the crowd, she exited the meeting to sustained applause.
During the discussion, there was no challenge to suggestions that a “hidden agenda” was behind PennDOT’s insistence on its new, two-lane plan, perhaps to support new truck traffic, when it had restored many other one-lane bridges. PennDOT has insisted its proposal is based only on best engineering and management practices.
In response to a challenge to the preservationist claim that the two-lane plan threatened erosion damage to properties along the creek, there was testimony directly to that effect as a result of new two-lane bridges nearby. New safety issues were also raised, with those bridges also noted as bringing significantly increased vehicle speeds, and a new stop sign not helping.
Regarding the proposal to pave Sheephole Road, officials decided to investigate the application of driving surface aggregate (DSA) as an alternative. The material, used in the state dirt and gravel roads program, was introduced as a means for keeping unwanted runoff from entering local streams, but it has also been credited with significantly improving driving conditions.
Regarding the state DEP proposal to downgrade Tohickon Creek, Ullman said she had asked DEP for an upgrade instead, as a means for promoting tourism, and expanded her effort to also include the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
Tinicum Township has also officially endorsed the upgrade, with their letter posted on the township website. Citizens still have the opportunity to officially support the initiative, with guidance available from Ullman’s office.